Disasters were more fun in the '70s, when we could watch ocean liners capsize and flood, or skyscrapers burn and crumble, without thinking about hurricanes in New Orleans or planes hitting the World Trade Center. Back then, the heroes and villains were easier to tell apart: The former were men of action who valued life over money, and the latter were bigwigs and pencil-pushers, too focused on the bottom line to comprehend their imminent doom. The twin titans of the disaster-film genre—1972's The Poseidon Adventure and 1974's The Towering Inferno—have just been released in superb double-disc DVD editions, and they have more in common than kitsch appeal and producer Irwin Allen. Both can be read as studies of how The Me Decade strangled the hippie ideal, as they show big communal events, in fabulously designed spaces, collapsing in the face of corporate mismanagement and divine wrath.
God plays the biggest role in The Poseidon Adventure, which stars Gene Hackman as a radical minister who bullies the passengers of a capsized luxury liner into following him up through the ship's circles of hell, on the way to an uncertain rescue. There's ample overacting by the likes of Stella Stevens, Ernest Borgnine, and Shelley Winters, but the movie's one-obstacle-atop-another plot—and active meditation on faith—remain sharp and surprising. And while there's substantially more lumber to The Towering Inferno's story of a San Francisco skyscraper suffering a catastrophic wiring malfunction, the performances are more nuanced, led by Paul Newman as a disgruntled architect and Steve McQueen as a fire chief who hates architects. As with The Poseidon Adventure, the fun of watching The Towering Inferno is in figuring out which old star Allen is going to indiscriminately kill off, as well as watching ultramodern décor go up in flames while a bunch of stubborn egotists refuse to listen to reasonable men.
Key features: Multiple commentary tracks and a slew of new and vintage behind-the-scenes featurettes all celebrate Allen's exuberant showmanship and detail-oriented professionalism.